As we bid goodbye to 2021 and look forward to 2022, we reflect on how much has changed and how much remains the same. The dominant story of 2021 continued to be the COVID-19 pandemic.
As 2022 begins, let us look back and forward.
Information and Disinformation
It was a year of battling for minds.
We began 2021 with the hope of COVID-19 vaccines putting a quick end to the pandemic and reopening economies. In fact, the vaccines worked as well as we had hoped, at least on a micro scale. In countries that were able to swiftly deploy the vaccine, economies reopened.
However, vaccines were in short and uneven supply; and even when they were available, many countries were unable to swiftly deploy vaccines. Meanwhile, the virus was mutating with the Delta variant causing deadly surges across many countries. In Asia, India and Indonesia were particularly badly hit by the Delta variant. Haunting images of mass graves and smoke from funeral pyres from the devastating Delta surge in India swept the world, underlining the continuing dangers of the virus and the importance of vaccination.
In social media as well as in more traditional media, a different sort of epidemic was raging, an epidemic of misinformation. Across the world, anti-vaxxers, opportunists and the gullible spread misinformation about both the virus and the vaccine. The disinformation took many forms and had many motivations, but essentially resulted in slowing vaccine efforts and arguably worsening the results of the pandemic.
Nowhere was the vaccine divide as prominent as it was in the USA. The change in leadership improved the consistency of messages from the government but vaccine hesitancy continued to be a problem. As of June 2021, an ongoing survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation survey showed 14 percent of surveyed adults would refuse vaccination under any circumstances and that vaccine hesitancy was highest among white evangelical Christians.
Other battles raged
As the year began, our screens were filled with images from the storming of the US Capitol after Trump declared he had been cheated out of a presidential win. As a result, outgoing president Donald Trump’s accounts were either suspended or permanently deleted across many platforms over the risk of “incitement to violence.”
Over the course of 2021, rage found its way to the streets of the United States, and “Asian Hate” caused Asian Americans to stay off the streets. A backlash of social media-fueled boycotts against institutions and individuals seen as fueling racism or other unacceptable behavior followed. Cancel culture quickly became a topic for conversations.
These events, both in the larger global scale of encouraging vaccine hesitancy and the more national scale of the storming of the US Capitol underline not just how powerful social media has become or the ramifications of its misuse. Two things should be clear by now. First, it is apparent that much of what is posted in social media is posted by those with vested interests, and whether their goal is monetary or political, their primary goal is not the greater good. Second, the echo chamber that we create around ourselves can be extremely dysfunctional and the battle for minds begins with education about challenging the source.
It was a year of battles. As the world battled the virus, other battles raged.
On the first of February, the Myanmar military took control of the government, detaining many members of government including elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Riots raged across the country and hundreds of people were killed in the initial weeks of the coup. Fighting continues in many areas of the country and the UN estimates that over 50 percent of the Myanmar population have been driven into poverty since the February coup.
In Afghanistan, on the 15th of August, nearly 20 years after the United States intervened to remove the Taliban from power, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani left the country as fighters entered Kabul. The retaking of Afghanistan was astonishingly swift and was probably partially enabled by US President Biden’s insistence on a swift US withdrawal. In April of 2021, Biden announced that American troops would withdraw completely from Afghanistan by the end of August. While the withdrawal was in keeping with the agreement made in Doha by the previous administration, absent a clear intra-Afghanistan peace agreement between the Taliban and the Ghani government, it seems clear the US withdrawal helped pave the way for the Taliban’s quick return to power.
In business, a very different battle was waged between large institutional investors and online retail investors. 2021 was a year that will be remembered on Wall Street and while the names that will be remembered will be Reddit, GameStop and Robin Hood, the real lead actors are the many individual investors that set out to win against large players. When the short positions of hedge fund managers angered retail investors on Reddit’s r/wallstreetbets board, multitudes of investors used the zero-free trading app Robin Hood to bid up the prices of the named stocks, among them Blackberry, AMC, Nokia and GameStop. The economics of short positions set up the hedge funds for a short squeeze that, in one epic week, saw GameStop stock price increase 400 percent, closing out January with a 1,625 percent gain.
Even as economies reopened, media giants battled for streaming revenue. With content quickly becoming the main competitive resource, giants such as Disney quickly became major players in the streaming word. Elsewhere, Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson won the race to space on 11th July, beating Amazon’s Jeff Bezos by nine days.
Victories and Losses
It was a year of victories and losses.
The postponed 2020 summer Olympics were held in Tokyo in 2021 amid a surge in local COVID cases. Simply the ability to hold a summer Olympics during the pandemic is a victory. Despite restrictions, the games were seen as relatively successful and gave athletes a chance to come together. Hidilyn Diaz gave the Philippines first Olympic gold medal when she won the women’s 55-kg weightlifting category.
In another first for the country, the Nobel peace prize was awarded to journalists Maria Ressa from the Philippines and Novaya Gazela from Russia in recognition of their efforts to defend freedom of expression.
The world’s first malaria vaccine became available, a groundbreaking victory in the fight against this deadly disease.
In the fight against COVID-19, available vaccines have been shown to be effective against severe forms of the disease, and with boosters, even against newer variants. Two pill regimens have been approved for treatment of COVID-19.
We lost many people this year, among them Golden Girl Betty White, the Love Boat’s Gavin McLeod, the last of the Everly brothers, South African theologian Desmond Tutu and former US secretary of state Colin Powell.
As the year closed, we look on a world that seems to be on a path out of the pandemic. Even as Omicron causes surges worldwide, the evidence seems to point towards even Omicron easing the path to ending the pandemic with its ability to provoke a strong and broad immune response.
From an economic point of view, the ADB forecasts a 5.1 percent growth in the economy for 2021 and 6 percent in 2022.
So it’s not yet quite alright. We are tired but hopeful COVID-19 will not go away completely but it will become less virulent and we will learn to live with it.
The best news is that we are all still here. And 2022 should continue to be a year when we fight to defend and build a world worth living in.
Happy New Year to all!
This year, we combine the 2021 year-ender and the 2022 year-beginner in one piece. The year-ender’s traditional title, Zeitgeist derives from the German words time (zeit) and spirit or ghost (geist). It is loosely used to reference the spirit that drives a historical period. Zukunft, in keeping with the German origin of the year-ended title, is German for “future.”
Readers can email Maya at email@example.com. Or visit her site at http://integrations.tumblr.com.